Getting back to my village after the Peer Support Meeting in Phnom Penh was trying. I tried to get a ride going west. I tried to be understood in Khmer. I tried not to feel sorry for myself waiting for a ride for two hours. Kept trying.
While waiting, I watched a toddler play with nothing. No electronic gadgets or books or plush toys. No Legos. Not even Papa’s keys to jangle. Yet curiously, she amused herself. Her parents ran a kiosk along the curb on a busy road in center of Phnom Penh. The shop consisted of a big orange cooler stocked with a brick of ice, bottled water and energy drinks. Various bags of fried snacks were pinned to an umbrella under which they all sat: mother, father, baby in a hammock, and the little girl. She found a scrap of cardboard, which she sat on and scooted about the sidewalk—like a pretend Big Wheels. When that pleasure faded, she picked up a plastic bottle cap and piece of crinkly Cellophane in which she wrapped the cap like a present. She teased her baby brother with it. Propped up in the tiny hammock and still at that wobbly-baby stage, he tried to grab the prize, giggling as his sister snatched it back again and again. The parents were nearby, absorbed in their phones, not doting, but not negligent. The kids seemed to know it was up to them to find their own entertainment. It was too hot to exert much energy. Presently the little girl napped on her piece of cardboard, oblivious to the blaring traffic around her.
Finally found a torry going my way. Sat in it out of the sun for about 45 minutes as it slowly filled up with thin men who seemed to be carved from oiled teak. A monk cast a wary glance my way and sat a careful distance from me on the middle bench. The driver started the engine and turned on the AC. Just when I thought we were ready to go, a moto pulled up with an armoire. An armoire! The driver asked me to get in the back with the six skinny guys so he could fit in the furniture. I could see the headlines in the Post: Seven Flattened by Furniture in Phnom Penh Crash. I got out and walked on down the road.
Luckily found a taxi going to Kampot. Just four in the back; the driver, his wife and baby in front. While we were waiting for take-off, a vendor with a basket of fried insects reached through the window and sweetly offered the little boy a brown bug. I thought of Snow White and the proffered apple. The baby’s mother bought a bag for the trip. Crunch crunch.
The driver turned up a CD of Cambodian Techno Pop and we were finally on our way out of the city. The CD got stuck repeating ah-uk ah-uk, but no one seemed to notice. The baby, who was the image of his father, ate more than just insects. He ate a boiled egg, digging out the yoke with his baby fingers and dropping bits all over his mother who gazed fondly at the child. She fed him sugarcane juice from a straw and rice from a banana leaf package. He solemnly accepted everything offered. He did not smile.
At the first police checkpoint, my driver hurriedly fastened his seatbelt. We passed two more police checkpoints along the way. Most of the over-stocked cars and vans sailed on through. I thought I saw the armoire caravan pulled over, but it could have been any number of vans on the road. Finally made it to my village. It took four and a half hours to go 70 kilometers. Probably could have ridden my bicycle home in that time.
I had missed the afternoon thunderstorm my village. The air was still humid. The trees looked scrubbed and shiny. Glad to see my family and they seemed glad to see me. “How was your trip?” they asked politely. “Sabai, nah sabai.” I answered. Good, very good. In Cambodia, that’s just how we roll.